This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe... as the Buddha said: 'Hatred will never cease by hatred. By love alone is it healed.'
From 'Sent by Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit' by Alice Walker
Like all good stories, this one is greater than the sum of its parts. It's about a real tribe in South Africa, but like the best fiction it surprises us by playing with our expectations and giving us a tale of love when we thought we were getting brutality. And, like every fairy tale, myth and literary classic, it's also a story about the inner human world, the dimensions of the psyche, and the processes that take place inside all of us as we go about our daily activities, from the sacred to the profane. Let me explain.
Within every human mind there dwells a whole cast of characters, a tribe of people, each with a voice. Some loom large and loud, whilst others play smaller parts or even lurk in the wings. They comment on the decisions we make and the course of our actions, and often debate amongst themselves about the wisdom of our choices, our qualities or even our worth. If, for example, we do wrong, like the tribe in the story they too gather in a circle around us and have their say. There may be among them some positive voices. 'She meant well', says our Inner Defender. 'Yes, you can see she is sorry', adds our Inner Protector, whilst our Inner Champion might chime in, 'Look at all the things she has got RIGHT today!'. But for many of us, these voices are often competing with darker, more negative characters, who can be especially strong at the times when we have made mistakes. 'Typical!', our Inner Detractor will sigh, joined by our Inner Critic who will roll their eyes and often recall, at length, all of the bad things the person in the centre of the circle has done in their lifetime.
Who created this cast of characters, this tribe of voices that all of us have within? Where do they originate, who gave them their energy, who decided which would be loud and which soft, which would dominate and which would struggle to be heard? Of course, they are always in development, but the original script-writing and casting was done by...our parents. Looking after small children and babies often gets a bad press - surely it is just boring? drudgery and bum wiping? - but in fact the task is immensely creative and powerful. The mother or parent or carer is not just directing the external action, and choosing park or painting, fish fingers or sausages (although this can be creative in itself if they choose to make it so.) They are also responsible for the development of their child's inner world, and the characters with which it is populated - an influence that, good or bad, will last a lifetime.
Right now my personal challenge is that my youngest daughter, nearly two, can be aggressive, hitting or even biting when she is upset, tired or just carried away. I never experienced this with my eldest daughter, who, now 4, is and has always been consistently gentle with every other living creature she meets. I'm shocked when the youngest hits out, and it triggers a whole chorus of inner voices for me. 'You see, I told you this Attachment Parenting was a load of baloney', says my Inner Scoffer. 'It's not the AP that's the problem', argues the Inner Put Downer, 'I blame the mother. She got bored of parenting by the time the second one came along. She just couldn't be bothered to do as good a job with her'...and so they continue. Sometimes I tune in, and the anger rises, and I direct it out, towards my fighty little girl. 'NO!', I yell, 'DON"T be so UNKIND!'
This doesn't work. She fights more. The reason? Because I am not looking beneath her behaviour to see the underlying simple need - to be loved as much as her beautiful, perfect sister, the apple of mummy's eye. She hits out, I shout, she feels rejected, she hits again. We get stuck in a loop. What works? What works is to see her need to be loved, and to fulfil it. To scoop her up, even in the midst of her rage, and soothe her with kind words, loving looks, and soft kisses. To pour positivity and unconditional gentleness on the hot fire of her jealousy and anger. To be a chorus of voices, each one telling her that she is good, kind, and of value. To notice her - really notice her - to surround her and ritually chant her praises.
Consider - what sort of voices dwell within you? How do they respond when you transgress, when you fail? How would you like them to respond? How were these voices created, given form, given strength, in your childhood? Remember (even if, as a child, this was not remembered for you): the person behaving badly is the person who needs us the most. When we punish, shame or criticise, we do not help our children, now or in the future. We simply begin to create for them the inner critics and demons with which so many of us adults are all too familiar. But by giving our children love in their hardest moments, by pouring on unconditional kindness and reminding them, even as they are being extremely difficult, of their extreme brilliance, we can help to create for them a whole tribe of inner voices of positivity. These voices will encircle them and speak words of reassurance in every hour of darkness, their whole life, even long after we are gone. 'Hatred will never cease by hatred. By love alone is it healed.'